Eaux Claires 2016 snuck up on me. Although I had followed along with the success of the festival in its inaugural year last summer, a family wedding prevented me from attending. This year, my hopes of attending never got past the dream stage, as I could not lock down a single friend with the free time to make the hour and a half trip east.
Luckily, genetics came through, and my sister procured not only tickets for the festival, but a camping pass so I would have a place to lay my precious little head at night. This came to pass on the Wednesday before the festival began. Minimal planning, but a lot of excitement went into my weekend in the woods, and I thought I’d share some of the guidelines that helped us make those 36 or so hours some of the most musical and exciting of the summer.
1. Embrace the unexpected
At any festival, you will no doubt encounter people, places, events, or weather that you did not anticipate. The randomness of life at a music festival is one of the sweetest parts of the experience. My most unexpected moment occurred twenty minutes after getting to the actual festival, where we were watching Vince Staples perform an incredibly energetic, rainy show.
Through the crowd I saw a familiar face covered by raincoat hurrying towards the shuttle buses. My good college friend Anna had made the trip from her life in Denver to enjoy the music with some friends. I had expected to run into Minneapolitan friends, for whom the trip was just a short drive, but had no intention of seeing sweet Anna at any point in the foreseeable future, not to mention right in front of my eyes in the woods of Wisconsin. Our camp and theirs came together for a boozy morning on Saturday around a wet-log smoke fire. Making friends and enjoying those you already have is truly the spirit of any festival.
2. Pack smart/pack light
Camping always provides opportunities for success and failure. Not including the 4am parties happening at adjacent campsites with only a nylon wall for separation, these failures could come in the form of packing the wrong clothes, not having enough beer (God forbid), or, in my case, bringing the wrong type of contact solution. Saturday morning began with a botched attempt to put my contacts in after soaking them all night in a hydrogen peroxide solution that resulted in a stinging pain I wouldn’t wish upon my worst enemies. Thankfully, the lovely people that organized Eaux Claires stocked a full general store for campers, including items like Gatorade, snacks, firewood, and (thank heavens) contact solution. I was definitely awake after that mistake, which helped make the most of a day full of musical acts like Unknown Mortal Orchestra, Lucius, and Beach House.
3. Say yes to everything
Excluding the very likely occurrence that someone will offer you some kind of illicit substance, try to say yes to every opportunity a festival affords you. I speak mostly of musical opportunity. It’s not likely that you will ever attend a festival where each band playing is on your “summertime fun faves” playlist. You’re more than likely going to see a group you have never heard of and never cared about. Opening your ears and your hearts to soak in these performances will make your experience immensely more enjoyable. Vince Staples was the artist I cared little to see from the get go, but once he started performing, I didn’t want to be anywhere else. Even my vegan sister had her booty shaking to his West Coast vibes.
4. Keep your eyes peeled
At any festival, especially a woodsy, artist driven festival like Eaux Claires, there are bound to be moments of surprise hidden amongst the organized cornucopia of activity. One such moment that presented itself to me was a surprise performance in the woods by Bon Iver’s S. Carey, a multi-instrumentalist and singer whose solo works have soared beautifully into my heart. The soft tones of his Wurlitzer keyboard floated wistfully towards the green branches shading his audience. He was even joined by poet and writer Honorée Fanonne, who recited poetry over a backdrop of soft jazz from the musicians on stage. This was one of the most rewarding experiences of the weekend, and was only enjoyed because we kept our eyes peeled.
I forbid you to hang in a safe place where plenty of food trucks and festival goers make you feel at home. Blaze a trail through the woods.
Find a unique vantage point. Go be alone for a while. Take a different path, and you might end up making a new friend, seeing something beautiful, or find yourself taking a much needed nap beneath a cloud of luscious music from William Tyler.
6. Soak it up
An inevitability of a weekend festival is that it will end before you know it. Though performances may take you to an ethereal place where they seem to last forever, the reality is that 48 hours goes by extremely fast. It’s important to take a breather every now and then to step back from the excitement and think of what a feat it is that so many thousands of planning hours were spent so you could drink beer and watch Justin Vernon sing. If there ever were a time for a #blessed Instagram hashtag, that’s it.
Eaux Claires was the beginning of the end of my summer, and what a way to hang up the flip flops for the year. The last performance I took in was Beach House, a band I’ve been in love with since high school. They brought so much power to their catalogue of songs that I would categorize as melancholy at the most optimistic. They transformed their sound with a lightning-like energy, and turned the crowd into a singular mass of bobbing excitement. Walking away from that performance was a long sigh of acceptance that Eaux Claires, and my Minnesota summer, were both coming to an end.